There's been a lot of discussion after the advent of Mk. 3 about "faction identity." Everyone came out the other end of the transition wondering what that identity was, if it had been lost, if it had been redefined. Some factions had a fairly major shift; Circle, for example, I think changed quite drastically in a lot of respects (and it largely changed away from what I enjoyed about the faction.)
A lot of people insist on making very vague claims about exactly what their factions' identity is, I hear lots of buzzwords floating around about "guerilla warfare" or "tricky" or any number of just general concepts or terms rather than actual, definitive specifications about what makes a given faction what it is. Protectorate, for example, gets called a "denial" faction really often, but... what exactly does that mean? There's very little specific brought up as to exactly how much of that exists, whether it's really faction defining, etc. What does Protectorate do, what is the playstyle we bring to the table, and the big question... what is our faction identity?
What Is Denial?
The Pope of Nope Says Nope to Your Nonsense
Denial is, put very simply, that ability to tell your opponent they can not legally do the thing they would typically be able to do. Truthfully, denial is very much a core aspect of the Protectorate's power, and is also I think part of what makes the faction a little more nuanced and difficult to get the most out of in many cases compared to some (though definitely not all) other factions. Protectorate has a lot of strength and not a lot of sneaky tricks, but isn't a blunt instrument most of the time either. Denial benefits greatly from game knowledge. You won't know what to deny your opponent if you don't know what they're capable of in the first place.
The Protectorate brings many hard examples of denial to the table. I'm going to touch on a number of them, but I doubt very much that I'll hit them all, as it's a very common theme throughout Protectorate models and some of the denial aspects are a bit more nuanced than just a single rule.
Sacred Ward/Spell Ward
This is very nearly a signature ability of the Protectorate, although it doesn't always come in the form of those exact worded rules. A number of models do in fact have these rules, such as Severius1, the Avatar of Menoth, Indictors, and the Covenant of Menoth. Others create similar effects, such as the Knight Errant Officer's minifeat, Zealots prayer for Warding, the Attendant Priest's prayer for Warding, and spells like Arcane Ward and Banishing Ward which are on multiple 'casters in the faction. The ability to make our models untargetable by spells is a powerful one, and requires you to have a solid understanding of the spells available to your opponent, which will be used on which targets and when, and what effect they might have to hinder your game plan. Knowing where to put these spells is hard, but with practice you'll get a good feel for where they need to go.
Another great, and very common, example of this rule type is on the Choir of Menoth, With Hymn of Shielding, entire armies can be made spell immune, which can in some cases be absolutely back breaking. Vindictus' feat gives all of his warrior models in control essentially Sacred Ward, and between that and the Choir an entire army can easily become immune to spells. Rahn isn't pleased.
It's really just a single-volume copy of the Wheel of Time...
Along a similar line to sacred/spell ward style effects, we feature a number of no-casting auras. The classic one is, of course, the Covenant of Menoth (often called The Book), which can drop a 10" no-casting bubble around it. Severius1's feat doesn't allow casting while inside. Some softer effects include Reznik1's feat, which lights enemies on fire if they opt to cast spells in there. This effect is fairly straightforward, but the big thing now is that Animi count as spells, even when cast by their Warbeast. This means anti-spell bubbles have a much more pronounced effect on Hordes factions, as some factions really rely on their animi to handle certain problems. The ability to deny those animi in some situations can be extremely powerful.
Another example of a no casting bubble to remember is the Indictor. In pairs, they can create a pretty large area where spells are not usable. Scourge of Heresy with Arcane Vortex is another great tool in that toolbox.
So we've got anti-spell defensive tech down, what about guns?
Shooting denial is slightly more specific in the Protectorate. A very typical shooting denial ability is Stealth, but this is pretty rare in the faction (just Daughters, Nicia, and Thyra). The most common shooting denial effect is, again, on the Choir of Menoth. Alternatively to Shielding, they can sing Hymn of Passage, which makes our 'jacks untargetable by non-magical shooting. Reznik2's Lamentations of Suffering makes non-magical guns targeting him miss automatically. Vindictus' feat says his warrior models can not be targeted by non-magical shooting.
A common thread across our shooting denial is that Damage Type: Magical guns will typically shoot right through it, so is something to be very wary of. Lady Aiyana and Master Holt, though rare these days, can hand magical weapons out to models int he army. Various solos, caster effects, and depending on the Steamroller year even objectives can hand this damage type out, and are often brought specifically as a counter to Protectorate (or at least brought in case that matchup happens.) If you have a really good feel for the enemy's capabilities, you can even often tell in a multi-list format which army they're likely to bring based off of the availability of magical guns in one vs. the other. a
The ability to deny shooting on our warjacks makes the faction very potent in gun line fights. Some factions just won't be able to toe to toe with ours in a gun battle and are forced to come in to melee to fight properly... just make sure, if that's the case, to not get greedy and use Hymn of Battle, when lower damage but more denial will win you the fight.
Another decent example of shooting denial is the Protectorate's ability to bring shield guards in reasonable abundance. I've talked in other articles about my use of shield guards quite heavily in the faction, bringing a Devout and Rhoven n Co in almost every list I play. If an enemy only finds themselves with a few big magical guns to get through Hymn of Passage, shield guards can make it so even those won't work correctly.
Other examples of Protectorate denial exist, but these I feel are the core ones and the ones that need to be taken into account and used to get the most out of the faction.
Stat Fixing, Defensive and Offensive
Prepare to affix pillows to spears!
A very solid commonality across most Protectorate casters is stat fixing. One of the best defensive stat fixers in the game, Defenders Ward, is relatively common, featured on three of our casters. A number of others will have just a Def buff, usually in Arcane Ward. Slightly more rarely but still available are armor buffs, such as on Tristan1 and 2 or Amon ad-Raza. This access to so many great defensive spells is why Blessed effects, Purgation, or both are extremely potent when fighting the Protectorate.
The downside (somewhat) to this is that many of our models have stats that sort of need these defensive spells to be terribly effective. Lots of DEF 12s, ARM just below what you'd like to avoid small arms fire, things like that. However, with how prevalent things that this are in the faction, it doesn't really feel like a huge detriment. It does mean that often list building has to think really hard about which buffs are available in what quantities for what number of models, since you can easily find yourself with more models than you can effectively deliver with their defensive stats and may need to tweak things a little for better coverage (often a larger battlegroup, since the Choir alone is often enough to get them to do what they need to do.)
Offensively, we feature many instances of hit or damage fixers. We rely a little less on hit fixers and more on just being generally quite accurate; it's rare that our melee stuff is less than MAT 7 or has some kind of built in fixer like CMA, although guns tend to be a little more middling in accuracy. They do exist though, such as multiple instances of Death Sentence, a caster with Hand of Fate, Severius hit fixing an entire army, and Thyra who bumps the accuracy of her models more than anyone. This is a few examples, there are of course others.
Really our money makers are in the damage fixers. Protectorate can hit like a giant robot made of trucks, as long as we can get our stuff there. Ignite is quite common, Silence of Death appears on Thyra, Hand of Fate acts as a damage fixer as well. Divine Inspiration, Brand of Heresy, Battle Driven, Hand of Vengeance, Hymn of Battle, we're loaded with +2 damage/str modifiers for our models and can push stuff that already hits pretty hard to slightly ridiculous levels, if we wish. Ignite on Knights Exemplar under Battle Driven and their minifeat will kill... damn near anything, the numbers they reach are madness. The trick is getting them there, but we're loaded with great fixers for our units already solid output.
The third pillar of what I think Protectorate does well as a faction is ignoring rules enemies are trying to use. Blessed is the most obvious, and is making appearances more and more in Protectorate list design, especially with the advent of Exemplar Interdiction, further increasing the stock of Vengers and of course giving our warjacks Blessed. Reznik2 with Spellpiercer, Indictors with blessed weapons innately, Vengers of course, Errant bows, any number of weapons on Protectorate models feature Blessed. Some lists run so much of it that spells like Batten Down the Hatches is a liability more than a real help.
Another one we're kind of working on is Stealth. We have some alright outs for it, such as Rhoven giving a Reckoner eyeless sight, Reckoner flaring the target, everything else shooting it. The Revelator, of course, is an obvious one that will in many ways make this more something Protectorate is able to ignore.
This is a bit of a random one, but we also have a ton of random chain weapons, which ignore shields and shield wall. Chain weapon on a Repenter has won me multiple games, with a spell like Ignite allowing it to seriously shred a typically extremely durable heavy (go to hell, Centurions.) Many of our heavies feature a chain weapon to fling around, and when you start using them you may find you notice enemies relying on shields a heck of a lot more than before.
Fire. The reason a lot of people came to the Protectorate, they wanted to burn some heretics.
There's been a bit of a joke throughout the game recently that every faction is going to get its "fire" warcaster fairly soon. In a lot of ways heavy use of fire isn't really the big Protectorate (and Legion) thing, it has spread out a bit more across a few different factions. That said, it's still something to note, as we do have a lot of it.
Frankly, I don't actually consider our use of fire to be 'faction defining' at this point but it comes up enough that opponents may prioritize fire immune models vs. others when teching for a Protectorate matchup. Be aware of what you have that does fire damage and what doesn't; some models may randomly surprise you that they do or don't. Also be aware of which of your own pieces are fire immune because it does randomly come up, either against enemies or when shooting sprays and such over your own pieces. Malekus loves fire immune models and sprays, in my experience.
Fire can be finicky, it's dicey as far as actually getting much done (hence Feora1 not being considered amazing) but some of our casters interact with it in pretty interesting ways. Feora2, of course, makes fire unable to go out on enemies in her control, which makes it extremely consistent, especially considering she's pretty good (if a little inefficient) at flinging fire all over the place. Malekus is probably the real master of fire damage, his feat greatly increasing the effectiveness of fire attacks and forcing fire to stick around for a turn and be boosted when it activates, which is pretty good.
When considering fire, it's hard not to bring up Hand of Judgement. Fuel for the Flames is a rule I really hope to see appear more in Protectorate model design, maybe on something cheaper and more easily applied. As it is, we've got the chops of a shooting faction but are stuck at middling accuracy and range for basically equal damage output; my hope for Protectorate is it slowly gets cultivated in a bit of a sawed off shotgun faction; not going to do a ton from super far out, but when you get close, it's going to hurt.
Why would you need more of a conclusion than this image?
There's no faction I'd rather be playing right now. Are there more competitive factions? Sure. Protectorate is built in an extremely balanced and, occasionally, a bit timid way, but overall we have a deep model pool and a lot of sweet options and tech vs. anything we need to fight. Control matchups can be a little harder in some respects, but we're able to answer a ton of questions while asking many of our own quite effectively. This is a general overview of my thoughts on our design as a faction, but I'll dig more into specifics in the future.
See you all next time!